Taxi, private-hire car drivers to get more help amid Covid-19 outbreak

Eligible taxi and private-hire car drivers will continue to receive the Special Relief Fund payments of $300 per vehicle per month until end-September. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Taxi and private-hire car drivers will get more financial aid as the Covid-19 pandemic takes a bigger toll on business.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament on Thursday (March 26) that government help on several fronts will be rolled out - on top of a $77 million point-to-point transport support package announced last month.

"Our taxi and private-hire car drivers have seen their takings fall significantly, as more people work from home and as visitorship falls," Mr Heng said.

The following measures will kick in from May:

- The point-to-point support package will be enhanced and extended to September. This will cost taxpayers another $95 million. About $78 million will go towards main taxi hirers, and qualifying private-hire car drivers, to be disbursed from May to September. This will benefit more than 40,000 drivers. Main hirers are encouraged to share this with their relief drivers. - Drivers can also look forward to a Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme. Administered by the National Trades Union Congress, it grants each eligible driver $1,000 per month for nine months.

- Taxi companies with unhired cabs will get relief amounting to $12 million. The industry's unhired vehicle rate has risen from 9 per cent in January to as high as 14 per cent, or close to 2,600 cabs, in mid-March, and "is expected to rise further". Again, operators are to share savings with their drivers.

- To allow private-hire car drivers to exit the market, there will be a one-time waiver of the $100 conversion fee for those who convert their cars to normal passenger car status.

- The point-to-point licensing fee will be waived for another six months (from a three-month waiver announced last month). This will cost $3 million. Operators are encouraged to pass on the savings to drivers.

Eligible taxi and private-hire car drivers will continue to receive the Special Relief Fund payment of $300 per vehicle per month until end September.

The Government, however, will not defer a new licensing regime which is supposed to level the playing field for taxi and private-hire car operators.

The Street-Hail Service Operator Licence and Ride-Hail Service Operator Licence will kick in in September.

Besides direct financial relief, DPM Heng said an SGUnited Jobs virtual career fair will be launched on Friday. This will offer more than 2,200 jobs available. The focus will be short-term or temporary vacancies such as the "transport ambassadors" mentioned by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan earlier this week. These ambassadorscan help prevent overcrowding in MRT trains and cleantrain cabins.

Mr Khaw had suggested that taxi drivers displaced by the worsening Covid-19 crisis could apply.

DPM Heng also announced an automatic deferment of income tax payments for companies and self-employed persons for three months, with no application required. For self-employed persons, the payment cycle for personal income tax for the Year of Assessment 2020 generally starts in May 2020.

"We will defer the income tax payments due in May, June, and July 2020," Mr Heng said. "So income tax payments will only start from August 2020."

ComfortDelGro, Singapore's largest taxi operator, said: "Our staff and our cabbies are deeply appreciative of the assistance that the government has accorded companies in the land transport sector. We will be passing on savings to our drivers and will do our best to protect our workforce."

But ride-hailing firm Gojek said the point-to-point licensing regime should be deferred further. Its Singapore general manager Lien Choong Luen said: "While the extension of the point-to-point operator licence fee waiver by the Land Transport Authority is a helpful move for the industry, we believe that a further postponement of the Ride-hail Service Operator Licence start date would allow operators like Gojek to focus more of our efforts on assisting drivers, and addressing business and operational challenges."

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